Irene Adler (Mrs. Godfrey Norton) (Note: all quotations are from SCAN unless specified otherwise.)
Or as I call her, the Face that Launched an Unsinkable ’Ship. Irene Adler is a New Jersey–born operatic contralto and “well-known adventuress” with a knack for cross-dressing. Holmes calls her “the woman,” and presumably she is the lady whom Holmes is referring to when he says, “I have been beaten four times — three times by men, and once by a woman” (FIVE).
Her appearance is described only in generalities. Holmes reports that the working men in Adler’s neighborhood consider her “the daintiest thing under a bonnet on this planet” and says she has “a face a man might die for,” while Watson describes her as a “beautiful creature” with a “superb figure” who shows “grace and kindliness” while ministering to a disguised Holmes.
There is widespread belief in a Holmes–Adler romance (often claimed to have resulted in a son) despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. First, Watson specifies that Holmes felt “no emotion akin to love” for the lady. Second, Holmes witnesses Adler’s marriage to Godfrey Norton, a barrister. Finally, Watson’s description of Adler as being “of dubious and questionable memory” implies that she had died by the time he penned his account of her story. Most Holmes/Adler ’shippers blithely disregard the first statement and declare the third an error, while the inconvenient Norton is dismissed as a corpse or a cad when he’s acknowledged at all. (An exception is Carole Nelson Douglas’s Irene Adler series, in which a crime-solving Adler’s happy marriage to Norton still allows for gobs of UST with Holmes.)
Note: If I decide to cover pairings in a seperate section, I will probably move the third paragraph there.